King’s Head Theatre, London – until 26 August 2017
“We’ve shared each other round half the gay scene in London”… Between the news of its forthcoming move and expansion and the opening of a major nine week Queer Festival, there’s quite the buzz around the King’s Head at the moment, so I was keen to get stuck into the latter with a double bill of Kevin Elyot’s Coming Clean and a new play called Funeral Meats by Cradeaux Alexander.
The late Elyot is having a bit of a moment in London theatre. His final play – Twilight Song – is receiving a belated premiere at the Park Theatre and this production of Coming Clean marks the first major London revival for his first play, since it opened at the Bush in 1982. Thus the opportunity is there, should you wish to take it, to track the evolution of his writing, long dominated by his most famous play My Night With Reg.
In terms of recent gay history, Coming Clean is instantly dated as a pre-AIDS play but its emotional world is one that still resonates strongly. We may be in a time here of cottaging and discos rather than Grindr, but the questions around open relationships remain the same, how to balance faithfulness with the freedom to fuck around. And it is the shifting feelings around the rules Tony and Greg have set up for themselves that Elyot investigates here.
The catalyst is the arrival of Robert, a hot young would-be actor who they employ as a cleaner, whose presence forces Tony in particular to confront how happy he is with their set-up. Lee Knight plays these insecurities beautifully, particularly in his scenes with Elliot Hadley as his friend William, funny dialogue fizzing like pop between the pair of them, serving as a foil for the painful honesty that they share too.
Elsewhere, director Adam Spreadbury-Maher can’t quite smooth over the rough edges of a playwright still coming into his talent. There’s a clunkiness to the way larger themes are introduced and work is still needs to be done on distributing his gift for character and conversation to the supporting cast as well as the leads. That said, Coming Clean is still a vivid and at times affecting work, especially in the depths of Hadley’s performance.
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)Photos: Paul Nicholas DykeBooking until 26th August